Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Academic Integrity: Do You Walk the Walk?

Do you like this picture? I didn't take it. It was shot by flickr contributor "Daviddesign." I did some searching, and I found that it fit the tone of this post. But did I really need to post his name? I mean, it's just a picture.

Image by Flickr Contributor, "Daviddesign"

Every year of teaching English, it seemed that at some time we had a discussion on “hypocrisy.” I liked to use identifiable examples to illustrate for students. “Hypocrisy is the health teacher who smokes, the overweight PE teacher, or the drivers ed teacher who gets a DUI.” While these are blatant examples, there is another realm of hypocrisy a bit more subtle but equally destructive to our children.

That realm relates to how we, as educators approach plagiarism.

Most teachers expend tremendous energy and spend countless hours instructing students on the particulars of summarizing, paraphrasing and appropriately citing material. Programs such as Turnitin and SafeAssign help monitor student work and serve as excellent learning tools to assist students in proper synthesis of material so they can honestly call it their own (I am always puzzled by teachers who use these tools as punishment devices…the “gotcha” strategy is not exactly sound educationally). I applaud those teachers making such efforts. Today, with information so readily available, our method of instruction has drastically changed. Time spent on “searching” has been replaced with evaluating sources as well as emphasizing the importance of honesty and integrity. “Cut and Paste” has become far too easy.

At the same time, we all need to look in the mirror to make sure we are modeling those same behaviors that we so value for our students.

I’m not suggesting our profession is riddled with ne’er-do-wells, instead, I would like to suggest a checklist of common practices by teachers today that need to be scrutinized for their ethics: intentional or otherwise.

Lesson plans or Worksheets: We all have favorite “go-to” websites when we need that one lesson we just don’t have created. A quick search and, “voila,” we have fond an instant lesson. Copy and paste in Word, hit the Xerox machine…and good to go. Question: did you cite the source on the bottom of the page?

Images: We know the power of a thought-provoking image. With Flickr, Cooliris, and other search tools, we have virtually any image we want at the click of a mouse. Have you identified the photographer on the bottom of the picture as you displayed it to your class? Have you selected imageswith the appropriate Creative Commons attribution?

Music: Let’s say you are teaching the role that protest songs played politically in the late sixties. To make it come to life, you put together a montage of images from Life Magazine,from the Google/ Life archive, accompanied by a medley of songs from the time period. You gave credit to Life Photographers, but did you mention John Fogerty, Bob Dylan, and Barry McGwire?

Powerpoint presentations: Slideshare has kept me from reinventing the wheel and I am sure it has saved you as well. For those of you not familiar with slideshare, it is a collection of Powerpoint presentations on hundreds of topics, many of which are free to use. I wonder how many teachers have used one of these presentations and just changed the name. Don’t get me wrong, if somebody did it better, fine…just let your audience know too.

Staff Development: Many of us have had the opportunity to present information, strategies, or techniques to our colleagues. Do we always give credit to those whom we have adapted? Ironically, this mentioning of credits adds validity to your presentation.

Blogging or posting articles: I hope this goes without saying, but if we preach to children about giving due credit on published information, then clearly we need to do the same, especially when we open up to the whole world as audience. Please give credit to those who have inspired and taught you.

Many of you who know me know that I am a Digital Storytelling evangelist. I do workshops, speak at conferences, write articles, and blog on the topic. As much as I have made it my “own” I cannot go more than a couple sentences without mentioning Joe Lambert, the man who created the genre, or people like Bernajean Porter or Jason Ohler who have advanced DST to the realm of education. See? I just did it.

No, the intention of this post is not to discuss the legal details of plagiarism or documentation, although every educator should have as much of a working knowledge of the term “Creative Commons” as they do “Tort Liability.” The point is this: if you present something with only your name on it, you imply that it is yours. I hope that the next time you create a lesson, presentation, or write an article, you just do the same as you would ask your students to do. Remember, they are watching and learning more from your actions than your words.